There’s no counting how many games you’ve played in your lifetime. No counting the screens you’ve set and the shots you’ve taken and the passes you’ve given and received. No counting the number of times you’ve waited in that small, dark, smelly little locker room, quick-stepping from one foot to the next.
And yet, you’re the same third-grade girl, hair scraped into a reluctant ponytail, brand-new Nikes over blue cotton socks. Bouncing up and down. When? When? When do we start? Butterflies in your stomach, smile on your face.
Since third grade, sure, you’ve gone to camps. You’ve guarded girls who broke your arms. You’ve gotten taller. You’ve gotten heavier. You’ve gotten older. Teammates dropped out, rejoined. You can no longer get away with wearing nothing under your jersey.
Now, they whisper your name up and down the opposing bench. Girls play dirty under the basket because if they don’t foul you, you’ll go right through. The paper flashes your picture and cameras burn your eyes.
But what’s different, really?
You still have butterflies: spades of them. You still bounce. You’re bouncing now, in your laced-up kicks five or six sizes bigger than they were. There’s Ladell, your tiny point guard—she was tall for her age, in third grade, and they stuck her down at the block. There’s Desiree, your center. She’s been six feet since seventh grade. There’s Ellie, your wing. First player on your fifth-grade team to sink a three.
They’re still here. You’re still here.
So you got a little older. So you got a little stronger. So you got a little faster.
But it’s the same locker room, the same girls. Your jersey’s half-untucked, the way it always is. Blue cotton socks rise from your Nikes. You’re made of bouncing and butterflies and anticipation.
In ten minutes, you’ll be on that court, with Desiree stuck proudly in the middle of the jump circle. You’ll be behind her, to the right, ready to grab the ball when she tips it towards you. The bleachers will come alive. You’ll have fast breaks and steals, you’ll have turnovers and crazy threes.
It’ll be just another game.
The same extension of arms and legs, the same roar of the crowd. The same fumbling and breathlessness and calling out. Jumping jacks in the key, three-pointers from the right wing; pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll. L-cuts on the line. Baseline, baseline! Plant your feet and take the charge.
The game’s the same, and so are you.
Now, in that small, dark, smelly little locker room, you tap your feet. Across the room, Desiree’s earbuds are bleeding pump-up rap. Ellie mouths numbers as she watches the clock.
It’s almost time, and you’re impatient.